Tuesday, August 19, 2014

Wine

For now I'll steer clear of beer.
Fruit of the vine, I'll make you mine;
your sinewy tendrils
I let wrap my mind -
my insides become your trellis.

Tuesday, August 12, 2014

It's OK to Grieve for Robin Williams

People are sad about Robin Williams' death. I too am sad about Robin Williams.

A friend of mine posted on facebook something to the effect that it's not OK to be sad for a dead entertainer, but you really ought to be be doing something about a lot of the other misery that goes on in the world and be sad for other, bigger, more valid reasons. I'll quote him.

I feel terrible for the family and friends of Robin Williams, as losing loved ones to suicide is awful .(I've experienced it. ) There are however, 18,000 kids who die of hunger each and every day. They may not have lived to be multi-millionaire entertainers, but they had big dreams and big hearts too. Instead of sitting around feeling sorry for yourself over someone you never met, try and make the world a better place while you're alive by donating to causes that make a difference. Trade the energy you put into grieving for one entertainer and think of our men and women in uniform. And lastly, there are thousands of animals that need your help all over the globe. Perspective, perspective, perspective.

He makes a valid point. Putting effort into making "the world a better place" is a good thing. But why should we invalidate what we feel about this person we "never met?" This person we watched for countless hours, who made us laugh, who suffered just like all of us, who lived with the real pain of mental illness just like countless others but managed to use his suffering to make others laugh, to forget for a minute how wretched existence can be. I do not agree that we should put much into grieving for our military - all volunteers - who in this age of easily procured information rain death and destruction around the globe at the behest of a government beholden to Global Capitalism. I definitely feel for them, especially the impoverished ones with little other recourse to financial survival, but while we're at it, we should grieve for their victims as well, who outnumber American casualties exponentially.

Robin Williams' life and death didn't change history, and it pales in comparison to the numbers of people dying of hunger or under the heel of the U.S. military daily, or the decades-long wholesale slaughter of Palestinians by U.S.-armed Israel, or the innumerable women who are victims of domestic violence, whose death rate since the start of Operation Iraqi Freedom has far outpaced the number of dead military personel in our Middle Eastern resource wars, or the mounting numbers of young black men and women routinely murdered by our police officers or disproportionately incarcerated, or the escalating threat of Anthropogenic Global Warming, or mass extinctions. But his chosen profession was all about bringing laughter to others. He brought joy to millions of us. He helped us all to suffer a little less. It's O.K. to grieve for Robin Williams' death. We need people like him to help us laugh through the tears. There's already enough sorrow in this world; a world without Robin Williams in it is a world that is worse than it was before.

Monday, August 11, 2014

Fuck the Night

Hit the freeway at 8 pm,
a dirty needle in the arm of the night.

Drive four hours;
sleep in the car.
Drive some more.

Leave heartbreak in the rearview;
leave pain in a wake of dust.
Pierce the reclining indigo;
penetrate the gloom;
     thrust.

Drive to forget the one who hurt you.
Drive to forget the one you hurt.
Drive to forget who doesn't love you.
Drive to forget the one you love.

Morning is too distant,
leave this very instant.

Sunset is pregnant
 with possibility,
 with electricity,
 with mystery.

Hit the road at whatever hour,
a fresh needle in the arm of the night.

Thursday, August 7, 2014

I Make No Apologies for Labeling Myself "Socialist"

I make no apologies for labeling myself "socialist."

I adhere to the fundamental belief of the left that all people are created equally, as opposed to the far right view that contradicts this. As far as I'm concerned, every child born on this planet has an equal claim to basic human rights - food, water, shelter, clothing, companionship, leisure, enjoyment, and so on and so forth.

But the system we live under isn't a system of government. "Conventional wisdom" tells us that here in the United States we live in a democracy - that we, the people have a say in our own destinies. To an extent, this is true. A prosperous country like this one affords many opportunities to its citizens that a less free nation does not. But make no mistake, the system we live under is Global Capitalism, and it's easily shown that this system does not work for the majority of humans.

Global Capitalism turns the world's gears, with cooperative governments greasing the axles. This is plain to see from the macro to micro-economic levels, from the revolving door between the SEC and Wall Street lawyers to glad-handing council members cheerily approving exclusionary development projects while cutting education funds.

Our government is referred to as a "representative democracy." We regularly hit the voting booth to choose other folks to make all the big decisions for us. When you look at presidential and congressional approval ratings, it's pretty clear that the will of the people is of little concern to those in power. When you look at the polls it's clear that our government is far from achieving the "consent of the governed," one of the principles found in the U.S. Declaration of Independence that is all but forgotten. In practice, it's a far cry from actual democracy.

"But socialism doesn't work."

You may point to the Soviet Union and the People's Republic of China to illustrate. The histories of those two countries and their systems of government bear little resemblence to true socialism, or even communism, for that matter. Real socialism is a system that has never really been tried on a large scale. It's based on common ownership of the means of production rather than private, for-profit ownership. It doesn't have to mean more government, or state ownership of factories and farms. It could, in practice, through any number of well-conceived institutions, mean exactly the opposite.

Global Capitalism is demonstrably responsible for environmental degradation, unending war, governmental corruption, the vicious cycle of inequality, and a host of other destructive practices that just might plague us to extinction. Governments are expected to fall in line, to follow orders, and pass legislation that supports the system. Those that refuse, e.g. Venezuela, end up on the wrong end of the club, as Chomsky might say.

I stand with those who would like to try something different. 

Sadness Comes Like a Garbage Truck

Sadness comes like a garbage truck -
sour, unpleasant,
predictable, necessary.

But in advance there is choice.
Leave it all in the can?
Let it fester another week,
let it sit there, unattended?
Refuse to feel it,
to experience it fully?
Or haul it out to the street -
face the stink,
let the gloom take you for a moment?

Drag it to the curb.
Get it out; get rid of it
and then it's gone.

Wednesday, August 6, 2014

Sing To Me Extremes

Don't sing to me limp feelings;
sing to me extremes.
Sing to me hammers and stones;
sing anvils and boulders!
Or, if you must sing softness,
sing perfume and specific flowers
sing wispy neck hairs and lingerie;
sing sweaty dances and sweaty sheets
or sing not at all.

Song doesn't beg for middle ground!
You say you'd "kill for her smile,"
but there's nothing of the wolf
or the hawk
or the bombardier
or the powerline about you.
Give me a bloody knife's tender edge
or give me nothing at all.

Tuesday, August 5, 2014

Keep a Smile on Your Face

*** I wrote a showtune***

Your parents didn't like you
   and your siblings beat you up.
Your shih tzu chewed your new shoes
   and on your blue suit she threw up.
Keep a smile on your face!
Your boss gave you the pink slip
   and the bills are all past due.
Your favorite slacks got crotch-ripped
   and your kid's hair's full of glue.
Keep a smile on your face!

Your date just stood you up
   and your BFF ignores your texts.
Your body says "enough!"
   and that heart transplant it rejects.
Keep a smile on your face!
Your car just blew a gasket
   and your internet is suspended.
Don't start shopping for caskets,
   everything is splendid!
Keep a smile on your face.

You see no escape,
but don't flake; don't make
that mistake, problems can't be shunned.
Now you're in a rut,
but don't cut and run
there's still to be had some fun.

Your suffering has doubled,
   now you've taken to your bed.
Your home's reduced to rubble
   and your loved ones are all dead.
Keep a smile on your face!
The stars have all conspired
   to make your life a hell.
Your feet are always mired
   at the bottom of a well.
Keep a smile on your face!

Home

He stood motionless in the living room,
            arms rigidly forty-fived towards the floor,
                           looking like nothing so much as an arrow,
convinced that this attitude was the one that would keep the structure standing.
            First the furniture disappeared, then the pictures.
                     The windows and the doors dematerialized then,
                   the roof and walls evaporated,
      and he just stood there, motionless,
not realizing until it was all gone
        that his home had left him.

Sunday, August 3, 2014

A New Catch

A couple weeks ago I took a spontaneous road trip to Asheville, wrote a blog post about it, but left off just as the night was beginning. This tune picks up where that post left off and tells the true tale of what happened that night.





I finished my drinks and leaned into the dusk.
The failing sun tried hard to crush 
my mood but failed.
I slouched down Broadway; I hadn’t a plan
I could barely stand so I started to dance
Oh whoa! Where will I go?
I stumbled through a door, locked eyes with a girl
olive skin, green eyes framed in dark curls.
My, my! How my head swirled.
The room was crowded and the lights were dim.
Her smile reached out and took the strength from my limbs.
Oh no! I won’t think of you.
Because I’m feeling like this night belongs to me.
Anything can happen ‘cause I feel so free!
Yes, I’m feeling like this night belongs to me, yeah yeah.
Oh whoa! Where will I go?
Yes!

Her car was in the alley, a little black hatchback.
We steamed the windows, “Stray Slack” for a soundtrack.
Dear Lord, I’m in love.
She said “there’s a party at the Econo Lodge!”
I replied “that’s strange, but who am I to judge?
Oh whoa! Baby, let’s go!”
She started the car, threw it into reverse,
it sputtered and she muttered my favorite curse,
but we were on our way.
We pulled into the lot at a quarter of 12,
delved into the motel it sweltered like hell.
Oh no! You’re not on my mind.
Because I’m feeling like this night belongs to me.
Anything can happen ‘cause I feel so free!
Yes, I’m feeling like this night belongs to me, yeah yeah.
Oh whoa! Where will I go?
Yes!

Never had I seen so much PVC, so many
whips and chains and strange looks directed at me.
“I’m not sure about this,” I thought.
She handed me a drink. I took it in one draught.
She paused for a second, then hurled the wickedest laugh
I’d ever seen or heard.
Then all of a sudden, all eyes were on me, 
my head started spinning, I wanted to flee
but I was too dizzy.
The next thing I knew I was being led on a chain.
I was light as a dewclaw, I was feeling no pain.
Oh whoa! Now I’m missing you.

Wednesday, July 30, 2014

Self-Help Poem

You don't need to be superhuman
or look like Paul Newman
to live exactly the life you want to live.
Of course I'm assuming
that your mind is now blooming
and your heart sings in multiple octaves.

You don't need an excess of cash,
but even a thimble full of dash
will produce more satisfactory results.
You'll make a sure splash
with a just a pinch of panache
then "Ahhhhhh!" as you ultimately exult.

Poem Scratched on a Napkin

I'm out of beer;
I'm out of cigarettes,
but chock full of regrets -
things I'd like to forget.
My nerves ain't frayed enough though,
so I need more bad stuff
to rough me up,
to toughen me up
so my off-the-cuff is gruff, not fluff,
and that's no bluff.

New Poetry Series

When I write, it’s because I’m really passionate about something. Probably I’m more passionate about not giving a shit than anything else.  I'll write a series of "I Don't Give a Shit About __________"s. 'Cause there's lots of shit I don't give a shit about.

1. Crime
2. American football
3. Yer band's influences
4. Age-defying facial creams
5. Cars
6. Comic books
7. Littering
8. Beards
9. TV commercials
10. Bacteria

Serious Mood

I'm in a serious mood.
Now, I'm not a serious dude,
but yr mind comes unglued,
yr attitude gets rude
when yr balls're blued
and so you spew crude shit
when you've stewed on all
that you've accrued through
yr day to day vicissitudes.
You exude renewed feuds on cue,
ex-specially the shrewdly planned.
I need help.
I need a doctor.
Somebody call Sigmund Frood.

Monday, July 28, 2014

"Tiny Ropes" (Verse)

My problems are shrinking because I'm better than them.
          I'm stronger than my sadness
          and my anger
          and my insecurity
   and my anxiety
          and body image issues
          and malingering
          and abrasiveness
          and volatility
   and overall Hamletishness.
       
I'm better than my social position
          and my lack of connections
          and brand recognition
          and the inadequacy of my income
and my bad decisions
          and my broken relationships  
          and proclivities
          and poor treatment of those I care for
          and the quality of my work so far
   and my habits of self-defeat.

They shrink as I grow,
   reduced to Lilliputians,
   their tiny ropes can't hold me.
And unlike the failed physician
   I do not befriend my captors
   but instead wreak havoc upon their land
   I crush them and burn the remains,
   raze their capital
   and consume their crops.

Carl Sandburg - "To a Contemporary Bunkshooter"

You come along. . . tearing your shirt. . . yelling about
     Jesus.
     Where do you get that stuff?
     What do you know about Jesus?
Jesus had a way of talking soft and outside of a few
     bankers and higher-ups among the con men of Jerusalem
     everybody liked to have this Jesus around because
     he never made any fake passes and everything
     he said went and he helped the sick and gave the
     people hope.
 
You come along squirting words at us, shaking your fist
     and calling us all damn fools so fierce the froth slobbers
     over your lips. . . always blabbing we're all
     going to hell straight off and you know all about it.
 
I've read Jesus' words. I know what he said. You don't
     throw any scare into me. I've got your number. I
     know how much you know about Jesus.
He never came near clean people or dirty people but
     they felt cleaner because he came along. It was your
     crowd of bankers and business men and lawyers
     hired the sluggers and murderers who put Jesus out
     of the running.
 
I say the same bunch backing you nailed the nails into
     the hands of this Jesus of Nazareth. He had lined
     up against him the same crooks and strong-arm men
     now lined up with you paying your way.
This Jesus was good to look at, smelled good, listened
     good. He threw out something fresh and beautiful
     from the skin of his body and the touch of his hands
     wherever he passed along.
You slimy bunkshooter, you put a smut on every human
     blossom in reach of your rotten breath belching
     about hell-fire and hiccupping about this Man who
     lived a clean life in Galilee.
When are you going to quit making the carpenters build
     emergency hospitals for women and girls driven
     crazy with wrecked nerves from your gibberish about
     Jesus--I put it to you again: Where do you get that
     stuff; what do you know about Jesus?
 
Go ahead and bust all the chairs you want to. Smash
     a whole wagon load of furniture at every performance.
     Turn sixty somersaults and stand on your
     nutty head. If it wasn't for the way you scare the
     women and kids I'd feel sorry for you and pass the hat.
I like to watch a good four-flusher work, but not when
     he starts people puking and calling for the doctors.
I like a man that's got nerve and can pull off a great
     original performance, but you--you're only a bug-
     house peddler of second-hand gospel--you're only
     shoving out a phoney imitation of the goods this
     Jesus wanted free as air and sunlight.
You tell people living in shanties Jesus is going to fix it
     up all right with them by giving them mansions in
     the skies after they're dead and the worms have
     eaten 'em.
You tell $6 a week department store girls all they need
     is Jesus; you take a steel trust wop, dead without
     having lived, gray and shrunken at forty years of
     age, and you tell him to look at Jesus on the cross
     and he'll be all right.
You tell poor people they don't need any more money
     on pay day and even if it's fierce to be out of a job,
     Jesus'll fix that up all right, all right--all they gotta
     do is take Jesus the way you say.
I'm telling you Jesus wouldn't stand for the stuff you're
     handing out. Jesus played it different. The bankers
     and lawyers of Jerusalem got their sluggers and
     murderers to go after Jesus just because Jesus
     wouldn't play their game. He didn't sit in with
     the big thieves.
I don't want a lot of gab from a bunkshooter in my religion.
I won't take my religion from any man who never works
     except with his mouth and never cherishes any memory
     except the face of the woman on the American
     silver dollar.
I ask you to come through and show me where you're
     pouring out the blood of your life.
I've been to this suburb of Jerusalem they call Golgotha,
     where they nailed Him, and I know if the story is
     straight it was real blood ran from His hands and
     the nail-holes, and it was real blood spurted in red
     drops where the spear of the Roman soldier rammed
     in between the ribs of this Jesus of Nazareth.

Sunday, July 27, 2014

"I Don't Give A Shit About Music" (Verse)

I don't give a shit
about John Lennon
or Jim Morrison or Jimi Hendrix
or Stevie Ray Vaughan
or Led Zeppelin.
I don't give a shit about Classic Rock.

I don't give a shit
about Kurt Cobain
or Eddie Vedder or Billy Corgan
or Chris Cornell
or Temple of the fucking Dawg.
I don't give a shit about Grunge.

I don't give a shit
about Miley Cyrus
or Kanye or Arcade Fire
or Beyonce
or the fucking accent mark over her second "e."
I don't give a shit about Top 40.

I don't give a shit
about Rush
or ELP or ELO
or Dream Theatre
or Radiohead.
I couldn't give two shits for Prog.

I don't give a shit
about Beethoven
or Woody Guthrie or Stravinski
of Gregorian Chant or gamelan
or the Twelve Tone Method.
I don't give a shit about Music. 

"My Brother's Back!" (Verse)

My brother, my hero!
Carved of 24 karat gold,
had been living in Tennessee.
working as an electrician.
He was strong and independent -
black haired, black eyed,
wild, a black wolf,
and the girls fell at his feet.
I missed him so -
But now he’s back!
Yes, now he’s back.
My brother has come home
and he won’t hit me anymore.

My brother never did well in school
but that’s because he was bored. 
He was smarter than his teachers
his mind as quick as that 
black 240Z he’d crashed before he left.
Now he’s in a white ‘65 Corvair ragtop
and taking me for milkshakes, 
bought me an RC Countach for my birthday
I missed him so -
But now he’s back!
Yes, now he’s back.
My brother has come home
and he won’t hit me anymore.

My brother really does love me
in spite of all those years
calling me a sissy and a nerd and a fag.
He was only kidding
when he said all that,
or he was trying to toughen me up.
He stood up for me when the bigger boys
tore the story I wrote 
for 6th grade English to shreds.
He was my hero, my champion!
I missed him so -
But now he’s back!
Yes, now he’s back.
My brother has come home
and he won’t hit me anymore.

My brother is gonna teach me 
everything he knows about cars and girls.
He’s almost 19 and he’s amazing!
His apartment has no furniture -
just a lot of empty Smirnov bottles
used for ashtrays.
To hell with what Mom and Dad say -
He’s living his own way.
I missed him so -
But now he’s back!
Yes, now he’s back.
My brother has come home
and he won’t hit me anymore.

"The Assembler" (Verse)

The Assembler stands by his bench,
electric drill in his hand and
a pocketful of screws,
putting together expensive electrical devices
so he can feed his kids on foodstamps,
so his boss can live in Chanticleer.

His dreams -
he left them in a dumpster
somewhere between Jackson and Memphis,
because what's a dream
compared to a wage?

A chorus of kinfolk sneeringly sing -
"What's a dream compared to steady pay?
When will your dreams
- pay the power?
- put food on the table?
- pay the rent?"
He makes himself a pack mule,
tries to make new dreams with and
for someone who'll just toss him aside
when the greener grass gets high.

The Assembler stands by his bench
his dreams buried far away,
once again full of ire and fire,
but now he's got a new dream;
and he's scouring some West Tennessee landfill.

Friday, July 25, 2014

"Mal de Ojo" - Vignette

*** Here's another little bit of story, part of what's already become the longest piece of fiction I've written so far, a story about a lonely person and the few individuals they're close to and a search for. . . ***

At exactly 3:00 PM that old, familiar wrapping of Grandma’s cane on my door jars me awake. The headache is gone, but everything else still excruciates.

“Get your lazy ass out of bed! I need to go to the bazaar. I need to get some things.”

The shock of such a discourteous awakening pales in comparison to this announcement. Grandma never leaves the apartment. Never.

She’s been inside since before I moved in with her as a teenager. I do all of the gophering for our dirty little home. Always have. What in the world could she need that would be so important to her that she wouldn’t just send me out as she always has?

I groan and roll out of bed, pull on my threadbare navy trousers and undershirt and red-piped nehru-collared jacket. My fingers tremble as I lace my standard issue black boots. I have a feeling of dread and anxiety. I hate surprises.

Grandma says nothing, but ushers me out the door to the stairwell the moment I emerge from my room. We’re up four flights, and the elevator in this building has never worked, as far as I know. The stairs will be a killer, as Grandma is heavy and has gout in her left heel. I have to hold onto her arm with one hand and support her lower back with the other as we descend; she grasps the handrail white-knuckledly. Her breathing is heavy.

“What are we doing? Why didn’t you just ask me to get whatever you needed?”
No response.

My injuries and sore muscles from last night’s chase and fatal fall kill with the added burden of Grandma’s weight. I ought to still be in bed. It takes us forever to get down to the foyer. As we emerge into the overcast afternoon, she breathes deeply and gains a little spring in her step. We head to the City’s outdoor market, four blocks away. Fortunately, we’ve already missed today’s uprising.

At the bazaar, she purchases a single brown chicken egg and a Guadelupe candle. Not another word passes between us until we are once again safely bolted into our apartment.

By this time it’s evening. The setting sun casts its striated yellow through the horizontal blind and across the living room wall opposite the window. It’s suppertime, but Grandma shows no signs of cooking anything. She comes to me with a glass of water and the egg. “Let’s go to your room.”

Panic instantly, irresistibly grips me. She hasn’t seen my room in years. What does she want in there now? I’ve managed to keep her out of there for so long. It’s my refuge. My sanctuary. What will she do when she sees the state of it?

I unlock the door and we go in my room. She looks around silently, just standing there holding the egg in one hand and the glass in the other. I feel as though I’m going to die – sweating, heart racing, hands shaking. At length she shakes her head and her eyes rest on mine.

“Lay down on the bed there, mijito chiquitito.”

I comply. What is this? That’s what she used to call me when I was little. My face reddens as the tears well up. I don’t let them fall, and it’s just as well since she’s not looking at my face anyway. She sets the glass down on a pile of books next to the bed and lights the Guadelupe and says an Apostle’s Creed and then begins tracing over my entire body with the egg, whispering. A long muscle in my back twitches uncontrollably. I’m in a cold sweat.

“Roll over.”

She repeats the process on my back, lingering over the area where the muscle is spasming. She says nothing as she cracks the eggshell and lets its contents slip into the clear water. There’s a foul smell. She looks at the egg for a long time, frowning, turning the glass around and around, passing it back and forth between one hand and the other every once in a while. Then with effort she crouches down and shoves aside a few books beneath the head of my bed and she places the glass there. I know it’s a ritual of some sort. But I’ve never seen this one before so I’m not sure of exactly what she’s trying to accomplish with it. Grandma is a curandera. Under most circumstances, I hate her superstitions and her little rituals and throwing of salt over the shoulder and all of that. But today is different. I’m in severe pain and feeling vulnerable. And I can see very real, genuine concern for my well-being in her eyes, a look I haven’t seen in ages.

“Now get some sleep,” she commands. She leaves the room quietly, shutting the door behind her.

It’s dark when I wake, early morning. Sleep was long and deep and indigo. I smell bacon and frying corn tortillas. The soreness has lessened and I stretch and yawn. Grandma has made me tacos con juevo y papa with bacon on the side and her special salsa. Did we have eggs here already? It doesn’t matter at all as I devour everything on my plate, picturing that obsessed wolf that I inadvertently killed the night before last. She touches my shoulder gently and makes her way to her room, stopping on the way to retrieve the glass from under my bed.

What now? I’m supposed to work in a few hours in spite of the persistent aching of my limbs. There’s no way I can miss another day there, especially because the manager has a strict “one strike and you’re out” rule about attendance, which he has mercifully overlooked twice already for me. If I call in today, he’ll surely fire me.

But the suspense from Grandma’s little egg ritual is killing me. What did it tell her? What’s next? I need to know what that was all about before I can pull myself together enough to go to work.

She ignores my knock. I knock again. And again. Finally she answers.

“We’ll talk after you get back from work.”


I can barely breathe as I walk the seven blocks to work. My heart is racing. I’m sweating again. This time I know I’m dying. Everything spins. My mind is out of control – it’s racing, thoughts flash in and out with lightning speed, some in the form of images: vivid, full color tableaux, and others are sensations or feelings. I don’t know how I’m going to make it to my job or what I’ll do when I get there. What will my manager do when he sees me in this state? Will he fire me? What will I do for another job if I lose this one? Suddenly everything is confused and uncertain. I don’t know, I don’t know, I don’t know. Oh, God help me. O lord. . . What’s Grandma going to tell me about the egg? Shit. I’ve never believed in all that superstitious nonsense of hers, but what if she’s right? What if it’s real? What if someone gave me mal de ojo or something? Lord help me. What if it’s her – my one true love? What if she is the one responsible for whatever’s wrong with me?

Thursday, July 24, 2014

It's Easy

It's easy for people to say "forgive," or "love your enemies." It's easy to make a hand-lettering project or a meme out of these sorts of expressions. But it's hard to actually practice them.

Gurus and pastors, friends, parents, mentors, sometimes shrinks will tell you that you need to forgive. But your feelings tell you otherwise. Your experiences tell you that you've been wronged, and that your anger is just. Those people who wronged you deserve all your ill-will, if nothing else.

But suppose your thought leans towards the obsessive side of the spectrum. You can focus so keenly on an idea, an event or a situation that you accidentally reach a kind of formless objectivity, suspending your own judgement about things, free of any sort of influence other than pure insight. These moments can give you greater clarity on the relationship, a gestalt, a holistic vision of the good as well as the bad, the roles that everyone played, the backgrounds and upbringings and so on.

Of course you recognize your own failings, your own weaknesses, fragility, pain, your own humanity. But with the distance of objectivity, with emotional detachment (an admittedly fleeting state of mind), you also somehow see the pain of the other person. You are able to see their sufferings, their weaknesses, their humanity. And it doesn't look much different from yours. You grasp a basic understanding of the connection between their suffering and their behavior. You discover that the only possible sensible feeling you could have towards this person, this object of your anger or hatred, this enemy, given the circumstances of everything they've been through with you, is compassion.

Even then, living according to this realization isn't necessarily easy. The thoughts of how they hurt you can flood back in. You're cold or abrasive to them, callous, uncaring. You regret your treatment of them, they who are probably just as wounded as anyone else, yourself included.

How can you deal with these potentially damaging emotions? Does the person involved know what your beef with them is? If you haven't done so already, perhaps you should find a way to say whatever you have to say to them in as polite a way as possible, guided by the principle of ahimsa (non-injury or non-violence). Express the anger forcefully through exercise and creative activity. And strive to make personal dealings with this person or persons align with the same beliefs - that they are deserving of compassion and that you will not harm them with your words or actions.

With these things in mind, maybe it's not so hard to learn and practice forgiveness.


Without Words I Defeat My Enemies (Verse)

My body is lean and it is corded.
My mind is strong and it is set.
I am well-equipped;
I am well-able
  to defeat my enemies.
My nerves are hardened steel now
a flame-forged armored shell.
My mind is a blade -
razor-sharp, well-made
  to defeat my enemies.

Without words you say I'm not good enough.
Without words you put me down.
Without words you bind my wrists and ankles
  in sustaining shackles.
Without words I know your fears.
Without words I know your needs.
Without words you lock me in a cage,
  but here I have the key.

My heart propels me to liberty.
My soul's a fiery convertible.
I am on the road to victory;
I hit I 40 west as hard as I can
  to defeat my enemies.
My eyes are open finally.
My ears are listening.
A voice is ringing sustainingly -
now I know who I am
  to defeat my enemies.

Monday, July 21, 2014

Reading List

It's best to devour books several at a time, buffet style. Satiety is unattainable, so you might as well heap your plate with plenty of fiction, poetry, poli-sci, religion, astronomy, psyche, philosophy or whatever you find most delectable and plunge into feasting. A bite of this, a taste of that, and sometimes a text will just be so delicious you shove all the others aside in its favor. Here's my own personal spread at the moment:

Hemingway - A Farewell to Arms
Carl Sandburg - Chicago Poems
Thich Nhat Hanh - The Miracle of Mindfulness
Robert Louis Stevenson - Treasure Island (for the kids)
Arthur O. Lovejoy - The Great Chain of Being

Sunday, July 20, 2014

Farewell love and all thy laws forever - Sir Thomas Wyatt

Farewell love and all thy laws forever;
Thy baited hooks shall tangle me no more.
Senec and Plato call me from thy lore
To perfect wealth, my wit for to endeavour.
In blind error when I did persever,
Thy sharp repulse, that pricketh aye so sore,
Hath taught me to set in trifles no store
And scape forth, since liberty is lever.
Therefore farewell; go trouble younger hearts
And in me claim no more authority.
With idle youth go use thy property
And thereon spend thy many brittle darts,
For hitherto though I have lost all my time,
Me lusteth no lenger rotten boughs to climb.

Sir Thomas Wyatt

One Drop

Drop Danny off. Make them some coffee. Feed the cats.  Go home, get back in bed.

That was my list for yesterday morning, but as I drove away from my brother's house I had a whim. "Why not go to Asheville today?" So I did.

I hit 25 north at about 11 AM, a notebook, a pen, and a pack of cigarettes for companions. I sang loudly to several old CDs I had rattling around in the car and felt good. I felt freedom and well-being and graditude and true purpose and joy for the moment. Rain fell. I knew I had an umbrella in the trunk, so if a true deluge came I could utilize it as I strolled ways unknown to me.

With time to kill, I explored the city's streets and its record stores and art galleries and used book shops. The smell of old books is like no other. It's a musty, old smell, an organic smell, a living smell. The pages contain much more than the words printed on them. Much like thrifted clothing, there's a secret history within every used book - the sweat and coffee stains and tears of previous owners, the smells of their homes and things they cooked there, the psychic information transmitted from the readers to the books as they lived through whatever their lives were at the moment when that book enriched them. Buying a book second hand, you don't get these stories delivered straight to your waking consciousness, but it comes to you unconsciously when you smell or touch them. As you leaf through the pages your soul expands, connecting you to the lives of those who previously held, read, loved or hated or merely liked or disliked that book.

On the streets of an unfamiliar city I feel in my element. In Pack Square before the Vance Memorial Obelisk stood two young men with anti-war signs - Sean and Shane. I introduced myself, chatted with them a moment and asked where I could get a good cup of coffee. I was pointed in the direction of a cafe in proximity.

"Is there a demonstration today? Got more people coming?"
"There's usually more people here," said Shane, "but it's an even more powerful statement to just have two guys standing here in the rain." I admired their fortitude and good cheer.

I sat with my coffee and air dried and thought about where I was, what I was doing, how it made me feel. It was a sense of freedom that I've only ever experienced when alone and on the road. It was intoxicating. Freedom is the most magnetic, the most healthful, the most joy-bringing, and possibly the most dangerous of intoxicants. One drop from its cup and you are bound to it forever. When you've tasted freedom, you will never be free from a constant seeking after it.

The sky stayed gray all day. I meandered aimlessly in search of drinks. Bars were everywhere, but what I wanted was a small hole in the wall with atmosphere. Not a show-up-on-a-moped-drink-till-you-pass-out-and-sleep-in-the-sawdust-underneath-the-bar kind of dive, mind you, but something a bit out of the way. I took an unexpected turn onto Broadway and began climbing a hill when a huge, framed poster of Bob Dobbs peered out from just such a place. I knew I'd found my bar - Tiger Mountain Thirst Parlour.

The place was dead, which was unfortunate, but the bartender was sweet and cool and there was some good rock and roll I'd never heard on the turntable. I ordered a whiskey and a beer and chatted with her. I forgot to ask her name. A few people came in, ordered drinks. A dude in a flat-brimmed baseball cap sat near me and set a book on the bar. He explained to the bartender that it was his 34th birthday.

"Got any Jameson?"
"No, I'm sorry we're out right now." He was taken aback.
"Alright. Got any Crown? I'll have Crown on the rocks."

"What're ya readin' there?" I asked.
"It's a book about the Sicilian mafia. I'm big into anything about the mafia." He talked about the differences between the mobs here and over there and how he got interested in the subject because his Dad was a forensic psychologist and his mom got him interested in reading really young. He told me all about Richard "The Iceman" Kuklinski and how he'd once tied someone up in a cave and let a bunch of rats eat him alive.

I finished my drinks and leaned out into the dusk with no plan. The darkling sky tried hard to crush my mood but failed and I climbed Broadway with warmth and unknown purpose and that feeling of freedom. The whole night was ahead of me. 

Tuesday, July 15, 2014

"Seven on Twelve" - Vignette

“Seven on Twelve.”

I say the simple code into my register’s microphone for the third time. There are at least a dozen people in line, most of them with full carts, waiting for my manager to come and give me the override. Three of them have children in tow. Snot-nosed children. Haven’t these people ever heard of tissues?

I haven’t seen her in months. Even with the job, I still get out just as much as ever on the hunt. Much of the time I had previously alotted to sleep was now taken over by my work. My real work. The part-time job alleviated the relentless hell I catch from Grandma for a week or so. But she was soon at it again, since my wages hardly made a dent in our household expenses.

At least I like my manager. Sort of. He’s middle-aged and paunchy, balding. Wire-framed glasses, mustache. He’s always stressed out with the responsibility of running our shift, but usually he’s even tempered and kind. Unless there’s a shortage anywhere. My till for instance.

“You’re 37 short.”
“Am I?”
“37.”
“Well, shit. How can that be?”
“I don’t appreciate your language or the hostility of your tone. I’m docking you.”

He was usually nice, but it was obvious, to me anyway, that his manners were the result of concentrated effort. He never talked to any of us about his personal life, but you could tell he had some serious shit going on. His body language said everything. He was a defeated sort of little man, frustrated and sour, the type that once had some grandiose ambitions, but through a series of fatal mistakes, saw none of them come to pass. He’d been through lots of therapy in the hopes of salvaging some semblence of a decent life from the landfill that was his existence. Abuse? Addiction? Perversion? One could only guess what brought him to this place. He had the air of someone who fancied himself  a benevolent ruler – superior but magnanimous – and it gave his presence some unwitting humor he’d not have had otherwise and sorely needed. Of course this was all speculation on my part. 

Tonight his nerves are thin. One of the few things I can do to alleviate the boredom at this job is to imagine whatever in his personal life has caused him to be so out of sorts at work. Maybe he’s got a boil in the fold where his cheek meets the back of his thigh. Maybe his wife has given him the final ultimatum on the length of his mustache, which covers his upper lip and makes him look like some sad, underfed walrus. Maybe he’s been to the doctor and found out he’s got a hundred more years to live.

“Cleanup on aisle 97,” he says to me robotically. “Someone spilled a whole box of detergent.”

I grab the mop and bucket and begin the long walk to the other end of the building. I’ll clean some things. Spilled detergent’s not a problem. But I draw the line at bathrooms. Never again. Not after the blowout I had to take care of in the women’s bathroom in my first week.


I finally arrive at my destination to find that some fucking old lady has slipped and fallen in the detergent. Someone had placed a warning sign there to keep people away from the site of the spill, but who knows if they put it there before or after the old bag skated? I choke back a chuckle as I look at her there, helpless, arms and legs flailing in slow motion like one of the huge brown cockroaches we get in our apartment when it gets turned over. I wish that it was Grandma there. But I think better of it, because I know if it were her down there in that sudsy mess I’d not be able to control my enjoyment.